From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was the major U.S. point of entry for immigrants coming to America across the Atlantic Ocean. Ellis Island is located near the shores of New York and New Jersey . A man named Samuel Ellis owned the island in the late eighteenth century, and the U.S. federal government bought it from him in 1808 for $10,000. The U.S. Army used the island from 1812 to 1814 and the U.S. Navy was there in 1876. In 1890, the House Committee on Immigration chose Ellis Island to be the site for an immigrant screening station. The old location at Castle Garden in lower Manhattan, New York, had become too small to handle the growing number of arriving immigrants.
The government enlarged Ellis Island from just over 3 acres (1 hectare) to 14 acres (6 hectares) and erected an immigration depot and several support buildings. The first immigrants passed through Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. The main depot was a two-story structure built of pine, with a blue slate roof.
Once immigrants disembarked from their ship, they filed into the registry room, an impressive room that measured 200 feet (61 meters) by 100 feet (30 meters) and had a 56-foot-high (17-meter) ceiling. The room itself was divided into twelve narrow aisles separated by iron bars. Doctors examined new arrivals at the front of the room. These doctors, in addition to other immigration officials, complained about the leaky roof and other structural problems.
Inspectors determined that the building would probably last less than five years. The roof was in danger of collapsing under heavy snowfall or high winds. The doors were poorly hung and sometimes fell off their hinges. Architects estimated repairs at $150,000.
Despite the evaluations of inspectors and architects, nothing was done about the problems. In 1895, architect John J. Clark was sent to inspect the building. Because the building was used to process immigrants and nothing more, Ellis Island officials were hesitant to invest more money into it. As a result, Clark reported that the roof did not need repair, angering Ellis Island employees who knew it was leaky. In addition to the architectural flaws, the building was too small for processing the still growing number of arriving immigrants. The inspection process was also slow, and there was nowhere for immigrants to live while
they waited to be processed. In 1897, the government decided to add a 250-bed dormitory to the main building.
Before the dorm could be built, a fire burned most of the buildings to the ground. There were two hundred immigrants on the island at the time of the fire, but no one was hurt. Three years later, on December 17, 1900, a new reception hall was completed. In the new building, sixty-five hundred immigrants could complete the inspection process in nine hours. This efficiency was possible because the new reception hall was modeled after the train stations of the time, which handled thousands of people and tons of cargo every day.
Ellis Island was expanded to 17 acres (7 hectares) in 1898, and a second island was added by using the dirt and rock removed during nearby subway construction. A third island was added and completed by 1906. Dormitories, hospitals, kitchens, a baggage station, a bathhouse, an electrical plant, and personnel to staff the depot raised the cost of renovations to a half million dollars. By 1954, however, stricter immigration Page 496 | Top of Articlelaws had decreased the number of immigrants processing through the New York depot, so the Immigration Services shut down Ellis Island, and activity resumed at the Manhattan immigration depot.
In 1885, France gave the Statue of Liberty to America. The statue was shipped in 350 pieces in 214 crates and arrived in the United States in June 1885; construction was completed in October of the following year. Nicknamed Lady Liberty, the statue was placed on Bedloe's Island, next to Ellis Island, where it became the symbol of freedom and hope for millions of immigrants. Bedloe's Island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.
Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) wrote the sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883. It is engraved on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The poem contains the famous line, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3048900197